THE BLOG

The Brazilian Guarani's Fight For Survival

11/08/2014 12:55 BST | Updated 08/10/2014 10:59 BST

Brazil's Mata Atlantic Forest - a green, lush and idyllic rainforest which starts at the Atlantic coastline, it is one of earth's most endangered and biologically rich ecological systems. Home to 2,200 species of bird, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, it's also where many of Brazil's largest indigenous tribe, the Guarani people, live.

Located in southern Brazil, including part of the country's richest state, São Paulo, Guarani Mbya and Tupi Guarani land has been threatened - and often destroyed - by mining, logging, multinational crop production, deforestation and urban expansion.

Consequently the areas the Guarani people have long called home are shrinking rapidly and constantly shrouded in territorial disputes. Indeed, the Mata Atlantic forest which once covered approximately 330 million acres, has shrunk by more than 85 per cent.

Throughout the world, there are an estimated 370 million indigenous people living in some 70 countries, maintaining social, cultural, economic and political characteristics - such as language, beliefs and ways of life - that are different to those in the dominant societies that encompass them.

According to the UN, which is observing International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on 9th August, despite their vast cultural differences all indigenous peoples share common problems concerning the protection of their rights. Most struggle to retain ancestral territories and natural resources and fail to gain recognition of their ways of life and cultural identities. They also lack political voice, are generally economically marginalised and face discrimination because of their heritage.

Despite Brazil's GDP being ranked the seventh largest globally, it remains one of the most unequal countries in the world with 16 million Brazilians living in extreme poverty according to the Federal Government. The country also has the most unequal pattern of land ownership in the world, with just three per cent of the population owning two-thirds of all arable land.

As a consequence of years of colonisation, racial discrimination continues to prevail, with Afro-Brazilians and indigenous people, like the Guarani, receiving less schooling, occupying lower-ranked jobs with lower wages, having fewer possibilities of social mobility, and living in regions lacking decent infrastructure.

Increased average incomes nationwide, combined with improved access to social services, have reduced extreme poverty - but have failed to challenge the structural inequalities that divide Brazilian society, having far-reaching implications for the chances of receiving a decent education, and access to secure employment and the benefits that brings.

The Guarani's land rights are protected - on paper - under the Brazilian constitution, but loss of territory caused by big business and urban expansion not only threatens the roofs over their heads, but disrupts the traditional Guarani relationship with the physical and spiritual world.

With guaranteeing their traditional lands fundamental for their physical and cultural survival, Christian Aid's local partner organisation, Pro-Indian Commission of Sao Paulo (CPI) is therefore working with Guarani communities in São Paulo state to help them gain the right to land that is rightfully theirs and make sure legislation is properly implemented.

CPI is also working with these communities to help reintroduce adequate and healthy food from the land, as well as traditional cooking methods. Arable land is decreasing, and with it the amount of healthy crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, maize, beans and bananas that can be grown.

Opportunities to hunt and fish are also disappearing. Consequently, Guarani have increasingly being forced to rely on unhealthy foods with long shelf lives, causing serious health issues, especially among children.

Now Guarani communities, specifically women, are revisiting traditional dishes, such as mbeju (a Guarani pancake) and jopara (a bean stew), which in recent years had all but disappeared.

CPI is also encouraging local authorities to reintroduce traditional foods to school lunches, so that Guarani children eat healthier from an early age, and learn about nutrition.

CPI's aim is not only to help the Guarani gain titles to land they've lived on for generations, and live healthier lives, but tackle the inequality that is a feature of their lives, and enable women in particular to have a louder voice in their communities.